Policing the Orbital Frontier
by Peter Wainwright
by Michelle Mackay
Policing the Orbital Frontier
by Peter Wainwright
by Michelle Mackay
Scanning the room carefully before he entered, the tall man inched a step closer toward the automatic door. Detecting his presence, the light partition slid to the side, inviting his entry. His senses keen, the man stepped into the white, half moon shaped room. Sterile looking, with an air of uncertainty, the bar dominated the open space attracting patrons of various life stations. They were of all sizes, shapes, genders and occupations. For the most part, the latter were legitimate. Yet, the man mused, some were considerably less so. Had he not known this instinctively, the day of week would have reminded him. Saturday was always a revelation, acting as a type of beacon for every smuggler, terrorist and rowdy at or near the station. Treading cautiously, noting who sat where, the man momentarily tensed, whirling toward a flash of silver. A reflex reaction, he passingly noted that his skills as a beat cop on earth had not completely deserted him. His muscles retracting, his breath coming in slower exhalations, the man permitted his shoulders to slump slightly, the silver blur clearly revealing itself not as a weapon but as the well worn threads of a prostitute's cloth. These days there were many such women who plied their trade, their profession legitimized or, at the very least, tolerated by the powers of the station's governing council. Prostitution, drugs, suicide. None of this was for space law enforcement to tarry with. Taking one last look around, the man turned quickly and retreated to the remainder of his rounds.
A fantasy more appropriate to the lore of moviedom rather than the reality of 2000, the scenario conjures images of 19th century America's wild frontier. An untamed environment, only lightly travelled by the likes of law enforcement, the mid to late 1800s life of the early United States pioneers could well make itself known again, as the race for space begins to include individual rather than government sponsored exploration. A fancy crossing the minds of many interested in colonization and commercialization, issues of who will govern and who will keep order are necessary compliments to any such discussion. Yet, while the mind's eye embraces images of juicy business initiatives and exciting tourism forays, the exploitation of zero g never seems to venture very far into the downside of the free wheeling opportunities of space. The social contract as espoused by philosopher John Locke, that we as humans surrender moral authority to civil law for better administration, has been somehow relegated to a things to do list when it comes to pondering what shape day to day life in space will take.
In fairness, the world's governments which have to date dominated the space arena have attempted to establish some controls. Various law institutes have tried to formulate such policies. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the American Civil Liberties Union are other organizations who are studying the subject. But with current statutes centring largely on exploration, legislation such as the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and the Rescue Agreement governing relief for stranded astronauts are rapidly becoming passť in the face of the future soon to be upon us. Where there are people, there is crime. Just what type of crime is something space colonists and travellers will have to discover and learn to manage. Already authorities can look to the sky when contemplating such violations as the falsification of satellite data and credit card number interceptions over satellite links.
Lewis Pinault is the author of Consulting Demons (HarperBusiness), an expose of the global consulting industry. A graduate of both MIT and the London School of Economics, where he was a Fulbright Scholar, Pinault is currently finishing a JD, MS and Phd at the University of Hawaii where his speciality is Future Studies, Space and Cyberspace Law. A 1999 delegate to the Third UN Conference on the Peaceful Use of Outer Space, his recommendation to establish a UN International Space Authority is now part of the conference's official output. Amply qualified to comment, he is accustomed to dialogue on the subject. In April he will speak at NASA Ames on 'Terrestrial Society in the Solar System' Astrobiology Conference and in July will be speaking and facilitating sessions at the International Conference on Exploration and Utilisation of the Moon (ICEUM4), held under the auspices of the International Lunar Exploration Group (ILEWG). Advocating rigorous psychological screening of space candidates, Pinault speculated that such crimes as homicide, euthanasia, manslaughter and even sexual assault may prevail in space.
"A-how-to-kill-in-space manual might include any number of subtle ways to damage human space environments and protective suits," Pinault said. "Simply tampering with radiation shield systems and personal dosimeters might guarantee a grisly death before even the victim was aware anything had happened. And then there's the extraordinarily convenient means of disposing of bodies and evidence. It's tough to find and rendezvous with human sized objects in earth orbit, and properly pushed, they can be guaranteed a fiery and destructive re-entry. Outside planetary orbit, evidence can be sent on its way in a random trajectory never likely to be found."
Like Pinault, Rex Stephens is also an author. His book, The Preparation, is largely devoted to hypothesizing on future trends in technology, society, economics and religion. The chapter on law enforcement has proved particularly controversial. Purposely crafting the section to elicit comment from readers, his work is revealing both for what it proposes for a legal framework and for those scorned earth crimes which he suggests will no longer remain outside of the law's arms. Prostitution, recreational drugs and even duels are all given the thumbs up in Stephens' world, provided these activities are carried out in private quarters and with certain provisos in place.
"In a few years, when the human presence in space becomes a permanent presence, all term habitats will have gravity," Stephens said. "In the near term, you will have the highly trained astronaut, scientists and rich tourist types. They are not going to cause any trouble. The worst you can expect would be someone going bonkers from claustrophobia or some other mental problem.
"But further in the future, permanently habitated space colonies and very long duration missions with large crews will have all the same problems we have here on Earth. The solution will also have to be the same. Reduce the opportunities available to criminals to commit crimes and have sufficient crimes investigation resources to ensure swift and certain punishment."
A frontier philosophy not unlike the metaphor employed in the Sean Connery movie, Outland, in which the actor portrayed a mining camp sheriff, Stephens' book embraces the concept of colony law. Similar to the role elders played in the Bible's Old Testament, a colony's governing council would see service from each station member for one day a year. Laws would be regularly vetted by inhabitants and video surveillance would be both a security measure and a silent crime witness. In the event of an infraction, tapes would be accessed and scrutinized by the governing board to render immediate judgement of wrongdoing. Sentencing would be swift and, for some violations, unforgiving with execution as one of the most severe penalties. Community services and fines would be the other options for crimes such as piracy, physical altercations and business disputes. Hinting occasionally of the influences of modern day science fiction, Stephens' take on prisoner incarceration is the most futuristic with ideas like Australia's Botany Bay concept or on board isolation cells gaining limited applause next to the technological approach. With the genius of rapid invention, the coming years could gift penal authorities with such advances as mind wipes, false memory implantation, personality alteration and artificial remorse.
"What will keep crime down the most is if citizens don't feel trapped by the circumstances of their lives, if they always have the option to move on to another place, another life, some place where they are in control of their destiny," Stephens said.
If Stephens' concepts on crime and law enforcement take root from his
interest in the space movement itself, Grange Morrow's thoughts are more oriented on earth. A passing speculator when it comes to the what ifs for policing in zero g Morrow is, nevertheless, amply qualified to offer a perspective. A member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) stationed in Manitoba, Canada, he has been seconded to The Hague for the past year as an investigator with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY). While agreeing that crimes for personal gain, such as piracy and smuggling, will dominate when it comes to space, Morrow tosses another iron into the fire suggesting that the arena is perfectly suited to host terrorists seeking a global stage on which to play out their demands.
"No doubt the way of life in space would be regimented and, if a large number of people were living off a planet, there would be a certain number of them that would want to live outside of the rules and taste the forbidden fruit," he said.
Well acquainted with the pluses and pitfalls of working with multinational forces in the aim of justice, Morrow said he surmises a requirement for a system greater than the limitations of colony law. Taking a page from the book he knows, he pointed to the precedent ICTY has set. Operating under the auspices of the United Nations, this body includes investigators from more than 12 nations. Co-operating on matters travelling up the judicial line, investigators have no immediate arrest powers, relying instead on co-operative governments and the military to do the deed. Space cops could, said Morrow, have such a guideline changed to include immediate arrest capabilities.
Still, while Morrow's concept depends on large multinationals to oversee order in space, other theories regarding law enforcement seem to run along the lines of Maritime law. James George, who belongs to the
Space Frontier Foundation is one such adherent. Mike Combs, who maintains his own web site on all matters relating to space, is another. Combs, however, goes one step further, advocating a freer frontier, unhindered by the encumbrances of as much government regulation as possible. He argues that preventative measures like pre-screening space travellers for criminal records and psychological problems is too authoritarian and would likely prove unsuccessful anyway. Space Future spokesman Peter Wainwright, meanwhile, is reluctant to enter that far into the fray at all.
"The problem with space is that under current law it is not owned by anyone which means no one has jurisdiction," Wainwright said. "Before you even start policing it, you have to resolve all kinds of legal questions revolving around who is responsible for what and where. Until recently, for example, it was actually illegal to land a spacecraft. You could launch because the international treaties governing space allow it. But they didn't cover landing again."
Issues of jurisdiction and enforcement are mute, however, without means which, in the vernacular of any day, usually means weapons. The equation may play out as one in which the person carrying the biggest gun wins. Yet in space we still need to know what kind of gun that will be. As Stephens suggests, colonization will likely entail an atmosphere in which gravity is present and so what's good on earth should be good on space stations. In a discussion forum on the subject, The Minnesota Space Frontier Society advocated for non lethal weapons in space. Throw nets, taser electrical stunners, mace and pepper spray all currently exist and could prove effective in the environment, as could knock out gas. Although knives and swords could be a lethal last resort option, the main restriction on one's choice of weapon centres around it not being able to compromise the artificial atmosphere contained by a ship or colony's wall. RCMP Constable John Hurley, who is a member of the Emergency Response Team (ERT) and a specialized weapons instructor, agreed that such things as tasers and pepper spray could work, but he points out that both have limited range and accuracy. Pepper spray is also not known for universal effectiveness, as in some 12 per cent of cases or higher it does not work. The mentally ill and individuals on drugs are some of the candidates who are occasionally immune to its nasty effects. Hurley suggests lasers and sonic disrupters would be the more likely weapons of choice, along with frangible ammunition which is designed to break up more easily than the standard jacketed rounds.
Crimes, punishments, incarceration and law enforcement systems. Space enthusiasts may not exactly swoon when it comes to such pedestrian ponderings. But consider them we must, unhindered by the fantasy of modern science fiction. Fanciful musings must give way to the reality of the coming decades' space frontiers. Individuals like Pinault, Stephens, Morrow, George, Combs, Wainwright and Hurley have much to contribute to the discussion. So, too, do members of the Minnesota Space Frontier Society. Likewise, technology and precedence will also play a role. History tells us that most frontiers are eventually tamed by civilization's hand. The gauntlet is down. The challenge is daunting. Mankind must now rise to the occasion.